Have you noticed that none of the Cubs announcers has asked, “How far did it fly?” The inquiry had been foremost in the minds of baseball fans since 1871 when Ezra Sutton of the Cleveland Forest Cities hit the first home run. Having never seen such a sight, fans in attendance at that game demanded to know how far the ball Sutton struck flew.

No official answer was given, partly because there was no public address announcer. But tape measures hadn’t been introduced to the sport despite the fact that they had already been around for six years. The industry wasn’t exactly known for its sales and marketing departments, who were often criticized as reactive instead of proactive. Up until Sutton’s home run, for example, rulers were outselling tape measures, which seems impossible.

Within a week tape measures arrived at every ballpark, as did public address announcers whose main job was to announce the distance of home runs. The “grounds crew” was also rolled out that day, although its primary function was to measure home runs with tape measures and report the distance to the P.A. announcer.

Home runs were not very popular for years until baseball’s Hotdog era, named after Babe Ruth. The Babe usually ate at least one hot dog in the dugout every inning while the Yankees were batting. Ruth hit so many homers that a box score statistic named HFIF was created just for him.

Tape measure sales were through the roof during this time. By the early 1930’s the industry had made so much money that it hired scientists to improve its product. By 1962 tape measures with LED lights and notepad functions were sweeping the nation, as was baseball, which had expanded from St. Louis to California.

By now the desire of millions of baseball fans was to know how far that homer flew, and the craving for such knowledge was relentless. Ten years ago, a major airline paid a huge chunk of change to the tape measure industry to sponsor the question. However, the discovery in February of hollowed bats and pine tar in the airline’s hangars abruptly ended its sponsoring by court order.

The “say it ain’t so” find of the hollowed bats and pine tar seems to have withered the innocence of the question, “How far did it fly?” More insidious questions now cross the baseball fan’s mind when he sees a home run. “Was that a pine tar job?” “Did he use a hollowed bat?” “How many fewer home runs would he have hit if he didn’t use an illegal amount of pine tar or a hollow bat?”

By Rob C. Christiansen